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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bacon Bear

Air Date: Week of

Polar bear stands, looking towards Mark Seth Lender’s research vessel. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

Smell is an ancient and powerful sense, and for Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender, it evokes potent memories and an encounter with a hungry polar bear.


DOERING: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Jenni Doering

CURWOOD: And I’m Steve Curwood.

Some key features of life on Earth evolved long ago, including the sense of smell. It goes back at least half a billion years, when our ancestors still swam in the sea. Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender hasn’t been around for quite that long but some heavenly smells still take him back.

Bacon Bear
© 2023 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

When it’s Bearded Iris time, those blooms wide as the spread of your hand. I breath. And close my eyes… That fragrance impossible to describe and then… The longing. For my grandparents. Their yard where bearded irises grew all along the side. For being small and safe, and free from complication.

And there I am. Right there.

Scent; Memory; Illusion; each one leads to the other.

And not just for us.

81’ 35” North Latitude, dead on 600 miles from the Pole and the cook on our research vessel is making bacon for breakfast. All the bacon. Why, I don’t know. But the cabins wreak of it. Midships. Companionways. The bridge. Even the foredeck out to the bows. And apparently beyond because -

The polar bears are coming.

All of them.

One in particular captures my attention. He’s way out there on the polar ice, wending his way toward the ship, the ice rolling under him in the swell. Closer and closer. And every few steps out comes that big, beautiful, black raspberry tongue, way down past his chin - and he inhales.

The polar bear sticks out its tongue, as if tasting the bacon smell on the air. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)


And when he does just like me on the perfume of bearded irises, he closes his eyes.

Except for Bacon Bear the memories are being made right here.

I don’t eat bacon. Some of it is cultural. Not eating pork is the one food prohibition we are most likely to obey. Mostly, it’s because of what factory farming does to pigs. And I won’t be giving a dime to that. Nonetheless... Bacon Bear deserved to have a slab tossed out on the ice for him. And I would have. But I was not in charge, and we didn’t.

CURWOOD: That’s Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender. For photos of that hungry polar bear, go to our website, loe.org.



Visit Mark Seth Lender’s website here


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